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The Not-So-Subtle Harassment of Women in the Gym

WRITTEN BY Annaliese Spielman

Merriam-Webster defines the verb harass as “to create an unpleasant or hostile situation especially by uninvited and unwelcome verbal or physical conduct.” It also defines sexual harassment as “uninvited and unwelcome verbal or physical behavior of a sexual nature especially by a person in authority toward a subordinate.” 

These two definitions cover a multitude of events that women endure in many spaces – particularly the gym – including unwanted advice, body shaming and sexual advances.

Although many gyms have adopted anti-harassment policies in the past decade, most of these rules aren’t enforced or followed; even worse, blame tends to be placed on the victim rather than the perpetrator.

Unwanted advice is a common occurrence among all gymgoers, specifically in the form of advice to women by ill-informed men. Every individual that walks into a gym has a different workout plan that the people around them may not understand. 

Most people are more than happy to receive a helping hand at the appropriate time from someone with proper training and education. The unwelcome advice is usually from individuals who aren’t qualified to be commenting on other people’s workouts. If you find yourself coming across unsolicited advice, Refinery 29 has an amazing article about how to best handle the situation.

Body shaming is also a constant issue that most women are aware of from the moment they enter a gym until the door closes on their way out. Both men and women are guilty of assuming that a woman having the confidence to enter the gym means their body is officially on display for others to praise and critique as they please. 

An survey shows that 72% of women changed their workout attire to prevent harassment 

Since the offenders tend to easily avoid discipline, the burden of trying to stop harassment falls on the laps of those suffering from it. 

A lot of women feel that to avoid harassment in the gym, they must change their face and behavior to become unwelcoming. 48% of women refrain from doing certain exercises after a negative experience, and 37% quit going to the gym completely.

It is every gym’s responsibility to make sure every patron feels comfortable in the space where they workout. There are strict harassment rules in other sectors of everyday life such as work and home, so why have these same measures not been place in other areas of society, including the gym?